First Matt Duchene was a prime candidate to get moved at the trade deadline. After Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic didn’t get the offers he wanted, Duchene became a supposed shoo-in to get moved on or around draft day. Nope. Now the dust of free agency has settled, too, and there’s still no new home for Duchene, whose camp is reportedly miffed about that.
A lot of the rumored suitors for Duchene no longer look like fits for his services after juggling their rosters around over the past couple weeks. The Nashville Predators, for instance, decided to pay Nick Bonino second-line-center money at $4.1 million a year, and still have No. 1 pivot Ryan Johansen to sign as a restricted free agent. He and agent Kurt Overhardt asked for $8.5 million, as reported by our own Ryan Kennedy, and the Preds still have 31-goal man and RFA Viktor Arvidsson to re-sign. It’s thus tough to see how they can fit Duchene and his $6-million AAV under the cap unless they deal one of their stud four defensemen, which GM David Poile has said he won’t do. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently suggested Mattias Ekholm was the ask from Joe Sakic, and Nashville isn’t likely to cave on that. Ekholm is too important. This team just came within two victories of a Stanley Cup, remember, and its top four of Ekholm, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis were the No. 1 reason why.
So the most commonly rumored Duchene destination seems to be off the board. Which teams still do have theoretical fits for the speedy pivot right now?
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
General manager Jarmo Kekalainen deserves a lot of credit. His Blue Jackets were among the league’s most cap-crunched teams entering the off-season, but he bought out Scott Hartnell and also dumped David Clarkson on the Vegas Golden Knights. The Blue Jackets still have crucial RFAs to sign in Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson but will still have some money left over after those deals are inked, as they have close to $13 million in cap space.
The Jackets could use another offensive weapon down the middle. Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky are solid power forwards but are ideal as third-liners, and Jenner can also play the wing if need be. Duchene would help. Kekalainen reportedly offered Ryan Murray to Sakic, but that won’t get it done. There’s obviously no way Columbus parts with Zach Werenski or Seth Jones, but it’s totally reasonable for Sakic to request prospect Gabriel Carlsson, who’s knocking on the door of regular NHL duty. If Duchene gets dealt to the Jackets, expect Carlsson to be involved. Reliable Jackets beat reporter and THN correspondent Aaron Portzline suggests the same.
There’s no way Boston includes mega-prospect blueliner Charlie McAvoy in a Duchene deal. McAvoy, ranked as our No. 4 overall prospect in THN Future Watch, has a dynamic skill-set that gives him a Drew Doughty-like ceiling. But if Boston wants to land Duchene, it may require sacrificing Brandon Carlo and/or Jakub Zboril. Considering defense is Boston’s greatest area of need and that Zdeno Chara’s career is almost over, does Duchene really make sense? Boston also has Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci down the middle, so Duchene might be deployed as a left winger should he go to Boston. I’m not convinced smoke yields fire in this case.
It’s tough to find a greater hockey fit for a Duchene deal than Carolina. We know the Avs want a promising young defenseman as the centerpiece of a Duchene return – and that the Canes need scoring help at forward. Carolina has Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce as a dynamite top four, with first-rounders Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean on their way in the development system. Surely GM Ron Francis could spare one of them? Colorado is believed to have asked for Hanifin and been rebuffed. But a potential trade between these two teams makes far too much sense to ignore.
Dream big! The Penguins already boast the NHL’s most famously top-heavy lineup, with $25 million of annual cap space committed to just Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, so the thought of adding Duchene’s $6 million on the pile seems silly. But the Penguins have proven they can win without defenseman Kris Letang and by deploying a ragtag group of blueliners who quickly push the puck up to the forward group. So maybe dealing young Olli Maatta to Colorado for Duchene makes sense, especially when the Pens are trying to three-peat and clearly in win-now mode. Duchene could replace the departed Bonino as an unreal third-line center or play swingman and get some time on Crosby or Malkin’s left side. Gulp. The Pens have been floated as a sleeper to land Duchene.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
Boy, would Duchene ever solve a problem for L.A., which may be the slowest team in the league. Kopitar is entrenched at center, but landing Duchene might mean he plays the wing or Jeff Carter does. The Kings’ blueline prospect cupboard isn’t empty. Colorado’s ask would likely include Kale Clague and more.
The Kings aren’t popping up as a Duchene destination like the aforementioned teams are. They’re purely a suggestion from my end because he’s exactly the type of player they need. Landing Gabe Vilardi was a coup at 11th overall this past June at the draft, but his main weakness is skating. He won’t solve their speed problem once he makes the team. Duchene would.
We’ll see what happens, but Avalanche insiders believe Sakic still isn’t satisfied with the offers he’s received and will fold up shop if teams keep trying to lowball him. This situation could drag deep into the summer.
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